Fujifilm X-A3 & Soviet Lenses, Part 2: Jupiter 21M

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Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Part 1 – Helios 44-2

The Jupiter 21M is the lens that I bought the Fujifilm X-A3 for. Yes, I purchased the camera with this specific lens in mind. I wanted a quality yet inexpensive long telephoto option, and I was hoping that this lens/camera combination would provide me just that. I was excited to put them to use and see what I could capture.

The first Jupiter 21 was introduced in 1959 in the Soviet Union. Over the years some modifications and improvements were made to the lens. The Jupiter 21M, which is one of the latest models, was manufactured beginning in 1973. My copy was made in 1983. I’ve heard that manufacturing of the Jupiter 21M continued well into the 2000’s, but I haven’t been able to verify this.

The Soviet Union acquired Carl Zeiss lens designs (and even some parts) at the end of World War II, and they made some direct copies of Zeiss lenses. The Jupiter 21 isn’t a direct copy of any particular German lens, but a Soviet “original” based on the Zeiss Sonnar design. The 21M model has an automatic aperture option, which allows the aperture to remain wide open for focusing but close down automatically whenever the shutter release is pressed. It’s not a particularly useful feature on the X-A3, but thankfully the lens has a switch to turn it off.

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Bottled Blossoms – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

There aren’t many flaws found on the Jupiter 21M, which is an f/4 200mm M42-mount manual-focus telephoto lens (that’s a mouthful). It’s very sharp corner-to-corner. There’s very little vignetting. Bokeh is quite nice. Chromatic aberrations are a small issue but only when wide open. It does have some pronounced hazy lens flare, which could be considered good or bad, depending on one’s tastes. The maximum aperture of f/4 is not particularly large but certainly sufficient. The lens is fantastic from an optical quality point of view.

The one big flaw with the Jupiter 21M is that it’s a tank. It’s big and heavy! It weighs a little over two pounds, so it’s not something you want to walk around with. This is a lens to use for specific photos, and then put away otherwise.

I also have a Kohbeptep K-1 2x teleconverter lens that I sometimes pair with the Jupiter 21M. It turns the 200mm focal length into 400mm. Because of the APS-C crop factor, it’s equivalent to having a 600mm lens on a full-frame camera. The Kohbeptep K-1 is another Soviet product, and it’s actually pretty darn good when using an aperture that is f/8 or smaller. There is a tiny loss in overall sharpness, but not much. When the aperture is wide open there’s noticeable corner softness and chromatic aberrations, but stop down a little and it goes away. The K-1 can be found for pretty cheap, mine came with a camera that was a gift.

I paid less than $100 for my Jupiter 21M lens, and I’ve heard of people finding them for under $50. As with all vintage Russian camera gear, there’s a chance you might get a dud because their quality control was particularly poor. Mine works perfectly fine, and it’s especially nice with my Fujifilm X-A3. I’m very satisfied with it. I look forward to capturing even more images with it.

Example photos, all straight-out-of-camera JPEGs:

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Winter Shrub – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Three Bottles – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Monochrome Flower – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Tired Boy – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Things I Don’t Understand – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Red Shed – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Winter Wasatch – Riverdale, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Last Light Wasatch – Riverdale, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

Jupiter 21M with Kohbeptep K-1 2x teleconverter:

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Winter Ridge – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Mountain Evergreens – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Train In Winter – South Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Rising Heat – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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White – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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White Ridges – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Rocky Hillside – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

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Snowy Slope – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 21M

Part 3 – Industar 61

My Fujifilm X100F Auto-ISO Settings

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Fortuity – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

A reader of Fuji X Weekly asked me what my Auto-ISO settings are for the Fujifilm X100F. I realized that I’ve never fully covered this in a post. I’ve mentioned some things here and there regarding Auto-ISO, but never laid it out in one place. So I’ll explain it here and now.

Back in the days of film or in the early days of digital, ISO was critical because things didn’t look particularly good past a certain point. I remember when I considered ISO 400 to be high ISO. I remember that my first DSLR, which I purchased about a decade ago, was only capable of good results to ISO 1600, and any ISO above that looked unpleasant. Nowadays cameras are capable of great results at ridiculously high ISOs. The X100F is good to ISO 12800, which is amazing to me!

Auto-ISO is a great feature. Most cameras have it, and the X100F is no exception. You can set it and forget it. You can worry about more important things since you know you’ll get good results no matter what the camera chooses.

Most of the time I operate the X100F in aperture-priority mode, which means that I set the aperture but let the camera choose the ISO and shutter speed. It’s all situational, and I don’t always do things the same way, but the majority of the time this is what I do because the aperture is what I typically want control of.

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Kiki – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

For the Auto-ISO parameters I set the minimum ISO to ISO 200 and the maximum to ISO 6400. Why not ISO 12800? Because if I use the digital teleconverter, ISO 12800 doesn’t look so great. I can always manually set the ISO to 12800 if I need it with a quick and short twist of a ring on top of the camera.

I also set the minimum shutter speed to 1/125. The camera will only choose a slower shutter speed than 1/125 if it reaches ISO 6400 but needs more light for a correct exposure. I find this to be a good shutter speed for most situations. If nothing in the scene is moving and you use a good technique for holding the camera, it’s possible to get sharp pictures handheld with a shutter speed as slow as 1/15. Sometimes if the subject is quickly moving, 1/125 isn’t fast enough, and 1/250 or even 1/500 might be more appropriate. It’s pretty easy to adjust the shutter to be either slower or faster with a turn of the shutter knob on top of the camera from “A” to whatever is needed.

Auto-ISO is a feature that I rely on extensively, but from time-to-time I manually adjust the ISO and/or the shutter speed whenever appropriate. The auto features work well on this camera, and manual adjustments are simple when necessary because the X100F is well designed for quick on-the-fly adjustments.

To summarize, on the X100F I use Auto-ISO with ISO 200 set as the minimum and ISO 6400 set as the maximum, and with the minimum shutter speed set to 1/125. But I look at each situation and decide if these settings will work, and, if not, I make manual adjustments. I hope this helps.

Why X-Trans III Is Better (And Why It Doesn’t Matter)

I recently purchased a used Fujifilm X-A3 to supplement my X100F. For some photographs an interchangeable-lens camera is a nice option to have. Occasionally the X100F isn’t versatile enough to get the shot. Most of the time the X100F is the right tool for the job, so it remains my main camera. Still, for those once-in-a-while moments, another camera is needed, or at least preferred.

The X-A3 isn’t an X-Trans camera, but it’s set up a lot like an X-Trans II camera. In fact, it’s kind of like having an X-Trans II camera with the resolution of an X-Trans III camera. I’ve had it for a few weeks now, and I’ve come to realize that X-Trans III is better. Not that the X-A3 is bad, because it’s actually surprisingly good, but there are some situations where X-Trans III is superior. None of this should shock anyone.

The JPEG options in particular are better on X-Trans III cameras. Sometimes with the X-A3 I just can’t achieve in-camera the desired results, while X-Trans III cameras would have no problems at all with the situation. I don’t always encounter this issue, only occasionally. Specifically, it’s low-contrast scenes, and the camera just can’t produce JPEGs with enough contrast and/or color saturation. It needs Acros or the improved Velvia, which are found on X-Trans III cameras, or the ability to go to +4, which the X-A3 cannot, as it is limited to +2.

I want to bring this down a notch, because it’s not a huge deal. Most of the time the X-A3 is perfectly capable of producing the desired results. And those instances that it cannot, it doesn’t take a whole lot of post-processing to fix the issue. It’s far from the end of the world. And as much as I would love to have purchased an X-T20 or X-E3 instead of the X-A3, there is no way that I could have justified the additional cost. I’m not dissatisfied with my decision.

Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about in this post. All of the photographs below were captured on a snowy, overcast day with very little contrast. The images are of a mountain that I was near, but much too far from to effectively capture with the X100F. I also captured some peaks way across the lake. No problem, I had my X-A3 with a 200mm lens plus a x2 teleconverter, making the focal-length 400mm, or 600mm when the APS-C crop factor is accounted for. I set the highlights, shadows and color (for the color images) to +2 and the dynamic range to DR100.

Straight-out-of-camera results:

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Frary Peak From Willard Bay – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

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Hidden Peak – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

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Reeds In Willard Bay – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

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Red & White Cliffs – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

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Cold Cliffs – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

Same photos, with a quick edit in Nik Silver Efex or Nik Color Efex:

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Frary Peak From Willard Bay – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

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Hidden Peak – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

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Reeds In Willard Bay – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

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Red & White Cliffs – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

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Cold Cliffs – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

It wasn’t difficult to get the results that I wanted with a little work on my computer, but the point is that I would have been able to achieve it without any post-processing had I had an X-Trans III camera instead of the X-A3. It’s not a big deal, but something worthwhile to note.

Not all of the photographs captured on that trip with the X-A3 needed editing. For instance, the picture below is a straight-out-of-camera JPEG:

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Snow On The Docks – Willard, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

The takeaway is that X-Trans III is better than X-Trans II or the X-A3 or the new X-A5, but it’s not anything to get worked up over. If you own an X100T, don’t feel like you have to upgrade to the X100F, even though the X100F is a little better. Your X100T is still a perfectly capable camera that can deliver excellent results. If you can’t afford the new Fujifilm cameras that have been trickling out over the last couple years, don’t feel like you are missing out if you have an older model. Yes, the newer ones will be better (that’s always the case), but it’s nothing you can’t work around.

Besides that, limitations improve art. It forces you to be more creative with whatever you have. Less is more, and that’s true in so many different ways. Don’t get bogged down thinking about what you don’t have and wishing that you had better things. Just use what you have to the best of your abilities, do the best you can with what you’ve got.

Fujifilm X-A3 & Soviet Lenses, Part 1: Helios 44-2

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Helios 44-2 & Zenit-E – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

I love pairing old Soviet Union lenses to Fujifilm cameras because it’s a great combination. It’s tons of fun and the results can be magical. I’m just thrilled to do this, and I hope that you appreciate the posts and pictures, even though they are off-topic slightly.

Why Soviet Union lenses? They’re cheap yet great. They often have exceptional image quality with unique characteristics. You can pick up a bunch of different ones for not much money. Really, there’s not much to dislike about them.

The history of Soviet lenses goes back to World War II. It actually goes back further than that, but the good part begins as the war ends. You might remember that the Russians were part of the Allies, united against Germany. As part of the spoils of being on the winning side, the Soviets acquired blueprints and designs for Leica and Zeiss cameras and lenses. They took this home and began making cameras and lenses nearly identical to the famed German brands.

None of this was well-known because the Russians were communists, and they were secluded from the western world. They exported very little. It wasn’t until the end of the Cold War that people began to realize that Russia was full of Leica and Zeiss clones. And these products could be had for a fraction of the price of the real thing.

There are a few reasons why Russian camera gear is so cheap. First, they developed very little of the technology they used, as they had inherited most of it from Germany. Next, they used cheap labor, including sometimes child labor, to build the cameras and lenses. Also, most Russians were quite poor, and very few could afford anything that wasn’t cheap. Finally, being communists, they didn’t have a profit model, so things were sold at a price point that was near the cost to manufacture.

The are a couple of downsides to this. One is that quality control was a major issue. There were many defective products made, and it’s not uncommon to find them still floating around. Similarly, there were discrepancies in the quality of the same product, with obvious deviations to the standards. Another downside is that they did very little to advance the technology. Even deep into the 1990’s the Russians were basically using 1950’s camera technology, with a couple 1960’s and 1970’s innovations sprinkled in. As far as camera gear goes, they were way behind the times.

Still, at the core of the gear were designs by some of the greatest engineers in the camera business. At the heart of Soviet Union cameras and lenses are found the handiwork of brilliant German minds. While inexpensive, Soviet camera gear is often marvelous, just as long as you can put up with the occasional dud.

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Tricycle In The Woods – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2

My favorite Russian lens is the 58mm f/2 Helios 44-2. The lens is a clone of the 58mm f/2 Zeiss Jena Biotar, which was manufactured throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, and is known for its swirly bokeh and fantastic image quality. The Helios 44-2 was manufactured until 1992 (with some limited runs of the lens after that). Because of the crop factor, the lens has an equivalent focal-length of 87mm when attached to my Fujifilm X-A3.

The Helios 44-2 is an M42 screw-mount lens. Mine came attached to a Zenit-E 35mm SLR. I use a cheap M42-to-Fuji-X adapter to mount it to my X-A3. The lens is manual focus and manual aperture. If you’ve only used auto features before then it might seem foreign to use manual functions, but with practice it shouldn’t be too hard to master. I grew up using manual-only cameras, so it’s no big deal for me to use.

An interesting Helios 44-2 feature is that it has two aperture rings, one with clicks and one that’s smooth. This makes sense when using it on a camera like the Zenit-E, because you want to open up the aperture for a bright viewfinder, which assists in accurate focusing, and the duel rings make it simple to do so. On a digital camera it doesn’t do a whole lot for you. It’s a quirk of using the lens, and takes a little practice to get used to.

The Helios 44-2 is always tack sharp in the center. Wide open there’s significant softness in the corners, but by f/5.6 it’s sharp all across the frame. There’s also some minor vignetting when wide open and I’ve noticed some purple fringing. Close the aperture a little and those issues are gone. Barrel distortion is very minor.

The Helios 44-2 has some design flaws, but these are actually assets. With the right conditions it’s possible to achieve a swirly bokeh effect. The lens is prone to some unusual lens flare that can be quite beautiful. An example of both of these can be seen in Tricycle In The Woods. The flaws are what give the lens its unique character, something that’s missing in today’s precisely-engineered modern lenses.

My Helios 44-2 was a gift, and it came attached to a Zenit-E camera. You can typically find it for less than $50 online. An adapter can usually found for about $10. That’s a small investment for a fantastic prime telephoto lens!

Below are photographs that I’ve captured with my X-A3 & Helios 44-2, all straight-out-of-camera JPEGs. I love how this combination renders photographs! There is a quality that’s seemingly magical. Enjoy!

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First Light Over Ridge – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Strawberry Peak Morning – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Clouds Over Strawberry Peak – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Wasatch Ridge View – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Wasatch Drama – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Last Leaf – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Morning Stripes – S. Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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f/4 – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Escalate – Draper, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Patio Lights – Draper, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Bolsey & Ektachrome – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Flower Bird – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Shopping For Something New – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Eating Lunch – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Flower In Glass – S. Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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A Short Tale – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

Part 2 – Jupiter 21M  Part 3 – Industar 61

The Artist Photographer

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White Glove Art – Edmonds, WA – Fujifilm X100F

Discussing art is kind of a dangerous proposition because it’s subjective, and you are bound to step on someone’s toes. I think it’s important to talk about art, and I think, even if someone might be offended, it is beneficial to have some understanding of what it is–to define it–and how it relates to photography and to you, the photographer.

Most photographs are not art, just like most people who have a paintbrush in their hands are not artists. Most people who sing aren’t recording artists. Not all people who whittle are wood-carvers. Not all people who draw letters are calligraphers. You get the idea. Just because something is similar to art, does not make it art. There is something that separates actual art from facsimile “art” that’s really not art at all.

Before jumping too deep into this, I want to clarify that it is perfectly fine that most photographs are not art. There are many different purposes for the photograph, and art is just one of them. There is nothing wrong with pictures that aren’t art, as they have their place, just as photographs as art also have their place. Just because one uses a camera doesn’t mean that person must be or should be an artist. You may have little to no interest in art at all, but you love to photograph, and there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

Webster defines art as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination.” Oxford defines it as “the expression of human creative skill and imagination.” Both of these explanations are similar and describe the two critical components for determining if something is or is not art: skill and imagination. If something is created skillfully but not imaginatively, it’s not art. If something is created imaginatively but not skillfully, it’s not art. It must be both skillfully and imaginatively completed in order to be considered art.

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Curtain Abstract – Mesquite, NV – Fujifilm X100F

People have different levels of skill and creativity. You might be very skillful but only marginally creative. You can be highly creative but only marginally skillful. Either way, you can still create art, and you can work to improve your shortcomings. You can become more proficient and increase your creativity with practice. Obviously the place you want to be if you wish to be an artist photographer is very skillful and highly creative. That’s a life-long process, and there are no easy one-size-fits-all instant answers. Just continue to work hard and be persistent.

Aside from knowing how to use your camera gear to achieve your desired results, and having imagination enough to know what you want the results to be in the first place, I think that there are a few more aspects to art that should be talked about. Look again at what Webster said of art, paying particular attention to the phrase, “conscious use of…” in the definition. You have to know what it is that you are creating. You have to be able to define it. You should be able to explain it to some extent. If you can’t, it’s not likely art that you’re creating.

I used to show my photographs to people and they’d say, “Oh, that looks nice!” Or, “What a pretty picture!” Then one day someone asked, “What does this picture mean? What is its purpose?” I had no answer because I had never thought of that before. I really didn’t know what to say, and it was kind of embarrassing. I realized that I needed to have an answer for all of my photographs–I needed to know the purpose and meaning of each–but the answer needed to be made prior to exposure, not after. If I’m trying to make it up after the fact it will typically translate as artificial and weak.

If a photograph is art, the photographer should be able to give a clear and concise explanation of the image. It doesn’t necessarily have to be profound. It doesn’t necessarily have to be obvious to the viewer. But the photographer should know clearly in their mind why they created the image and what the meaning of it is. And it’s okay if the viewer doesn’t see it the same way that you see it, it only matters that you know the purpose.

I believe that if something is art it should convey something to the viewer. It might be a strong and obvious message, it might be a subtle concept, it might be an emotion–there should be some kind of nonverbal communication, whether clear or vague. The photographer must decide what it is that the picture will convey, and then make decisions prior to exposure that will most strongly speak it.

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Preserved Steam Wheel – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

The Oxford explanation of art uses the word “expression” which can be defined as making one’s thoughts and feelings known. When you are an artist photographer, that’s exactly what you are doing. You are expressing your thoughts and/or feelings to others through your pictures. You are giving the viewer a glimpse of yourself through your photographs. Art is self expression. How you do this is entirely up to you. What glimpses you give of yourself is entirely up to you. You have to make those decisions, then skillfully and imaginatively create something from it.

Not everyone will appreciate your art. Not everyone will get it. In fact, if you are truly expressing yourself, you should expect criticism. People have opinions that are different than yours. People have experiences that are different than yours. People see the world through different eyes than yours. Strangers will look at something that you think is great and they’ll think it’s terrible. That’s completely okay, and you may not realize it, but you do the exact same thing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

If you are an artist photographer, you have to expect that criticism will come. Take it for what it’s worth, and, most likely, it’s not worth much. Listen to people who you trust, and take their criticism to heart. They mean well with what they say, and they’re just trying to help you. For everyone else, give the criticism a listen, but don’t put much stock into it, and don’t let it bother you. If you’re not getting any criticism at all, it’s most likely because you are not creating art, and you are not expressing yourself through your photographs enough.

Not everyone is an artist photographer, and not every artist photographer is always creating art. Photography as art happens when someone consciously expresses themselves in a masterful and creative fashion. It happens when the photographer communicates thoughts or emotions through pictures. I’m constantly striving to be an artist photographer. Sometimes I think I’ve succeeded, other times I feel like I’ve fallen short. But I keep at it, never giving up, always striving ahead.

The takeaway that I’d like to most impart is that you and I should continuously be working towards becoming more skilled with our gear and we should daily be practicing creativity. Constantly take baby steps to become a better and more artistic photographer. Even if things are slow developing or mistakes happen, don’t give up but instead keep moving forward. Be persistent. Tomorrow’s photographs can be better than today’s.

Fujifilm X100F, The Chronicle Camera (At McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park)

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Train Ride Through The Christmas Tunnel – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

There are many reasons to photograph. It might be because someone is paying you money to do so. It could be because you want to hang a pretty picture on your wall. Perhaps you want to share what you ate for lunch with your social network followers. Maybe you have a message you want to photographically convey. Or it might be because you are compelled to create art. There are any number of reasons to take a picture.

Ever since I purchased my Fujifilm X100F, I have found myself much more than ever before using the camera to chronicle my family and the adventures we have. I’m documenting us, the Roesch family. This is something I’ve always done, but never to the extent that I’ve done over the last six months. I’ve captured a heck-of-a-lot of family snapshots lately.

There are several reasons why I’m photographing my family more, and it comes down to gear. The X100F is the perfect chronicle camera. It’s small and lightweight enough to fit in my pocket, so I carry it around with me and it’s never in the way. The image quality is nothing short of fantastic. Many of the different film simulations are great for people pictures. The leaf shutter and built-in fill-flash are great for portraits. It produces wonderful pictures right out of the camera that don’t require editing, so I’m not bogged down with post-processing.

That last point is an important one. I used to spend hours and hours and hours sitting in front of a computer screen editing RAW files. That’s time spent away from family. My workflow was constantly backlogged. I found myself purposefully not capturing images because I knew that meant editing them, which required time that I didn’t have. In fact, I still have thousands of RAW exposures sitting on hard drives that I never got around to post-processing.

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Joyful Johanna – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

With the X100F, I not only have more time to capture pictures, but I’m also not worried about the time that I would have to spend with each image after exposure. I click the shutter and the image is done. It’s ready to be uploaded to the web (which is where I backup my pictures). I’ve saved so much time, and I believe that this more than anything accounts for why I’m now taking more family snapshots.

Years from now these pictures will be worth more to my family and I than any of the other ones. These will be the cherished photographs. I have an old box of slides that my grandparents captured, mostly in the 1950’s and 1960’s. There are images of Yosemite and Yellowstone and such in that box, but the pictures that are most interesting are the family snapshots. Pictures of my dad and his siblings as young kids, or my grandparents when they were young adults, are particularly fascinating.

The photographs in this post are from our family trip to Arizona last Christmas. There’s a really neat place in Scottsdale called the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, which is just an incredible place for any train enthusiast (and what kid isn’t a train enthusiast?). We spent an afternoon at the park, and these are the family snapshots that I captured. The kids had a blast! It was a really good couple of hours. Because I chronicled it with my camera–the adventure was documented–my kids and their future kids will have these treasured exposures. This will be meaningful to them.

The Fujifilm X100F is a great camera because, among other things, it makes family snapshots easy, producing excellent results without fuss. I’m so glad that I purchased it six months ago. I can’t wait to use it to chronicle the next family adventure, wherever and whenever that might be.

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Looking Out The Bright Window – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Christmas Joy – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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What Time Does The Train Leave? – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Leaving The Station – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Learning Scale – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Joshua At The Train Museum – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Trolley Driver – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Bottle Time – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Happy Holiday Baby – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Happy Girls – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Joy On The Lighted Path – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Christmas Bulb Reflection – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F

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Our Arizona Christmas – Scottsdale, AZ – Fujifilm X100F (captured by a stranger)

Photographic Focus

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Super EBC – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 8M

I’ve been thinking about focus over the last week. Not focus of the lens, but focus of the mind and life. How can I photographically improve? How can I use my time better? What should I be doing different? There are a lot of different aspects of this that could be discussed, and I’ll try to get to several of them in this article.

What comes to my mind first regarding focus and photography is composition. Something catches your eyes and you want to capture it with your camera. You have to consider what it is exactly that you wish to make a picture of. There is something about it that fascinates you, but what is it? Is it the light? The color? Design? Juxtaposition? Contrast? How can you best communicate it through a picture? Once you’ve answered those questions and many others, then you can go about creating a meaningful image by cutting out everything that isn’t important.

Photography is a lot like sculpting. The sculptor starts with a rock and chisels away everything that isn’t the finished sculpture. The photographer starts with a vast scene and removes everything that isn’t the picture that’s in his or her mind. Focus on what the picture should look like, and then take out of the frame everything that doesn’t belong.  Less is more.

I get asked sometimes how I find time to do photography. Life is busy. I have four young kids that keep me immensely occupied. I have to put food on the table and a roof over the head. There are so many different people and things that require attention. It’s often easier to not photograph. On the flip side it’s also easy to photograph too much and neglect the more important things around me. I get pulled in a lot of different directions.

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X100F – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

When you are passionate about something you find the time for it. I’m passionate about my family. I’m passionate about photography. I’m passionate about writing and other things. I make time for the things that I love.

You have to focus your time deliberately and wisely. If you are flying day-to-day by the seat of your pants you’ll spend too much time on one thing and ignore the others. Everything will find itself unbalanced. You have to focus your time and energy with purpose. You have to set aside a predetermined amount of time to your passion, and focus on accomplishing what you need regarding that passion within that time.

Sometimes things can spill over from one thing into another. For example, I love photography and I love my family, so I can sometimes photograph while I’m doing things with my family, or my family can become the subject of my photography. The caution here is to not let the camera interfere with family time, and not let family interfere with camera time. It’s important to set aside time that’s just for family and just for photography. There has to be a balance. It takes careful planning, but it is possible to accommodate a lot of different things in life.

Everyone should have passions and everyone should have dreams. Your passions will be the focus of your life. Where two (or more) passions meet is where you’ll do your best work. For example, if you love photography and also horses, you should combine the two passions and create your best work. Dream of what you could possibly create by photographing what you love.

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Functional Dial – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 103

I think a lot of people photograph whatever it is that catches their eyes at any given moment. I fall into that a lot, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with it, but it creates disjointed work. It’s better to focus one’s efforts onto refined ideas. The more specific you can be about what you photograph the better. You could call it specializing, but I don’t think you have to pick just one genre. I suggest focusing your attention on very specific photographic topics and create a cohesive body of work. If there is some subject, object, genre or style that you are particularly fascinated by, focus your efforts on that. I believe that the more specific you can be the more successful you are likely to be.

Richard Steinheimer once said something to the effect of “Photography is about being in the right place at the right time, and that often means going places that others aren’t willing to.” In other words, a big part of photography is luck, but you can create your own luck through determination and preparation. Focus your energy into being in the right places at the right times to capture great photographs. This might entail extra research, it might entail going down the road less traveled (metaphorically and literally), it might entail getting out of bed and venturing out into the cold while everyone else is warm and comfortably sleeping. Whatever it means, you have to be determined to do it.

I find myself too often with metaphorically blurred vision. I feel that sometimes my efforts are going nowhere, that I’m just spinning my wheels. I need to focus better, and that includes my time, my dreams, my efforts, my subjects, my compositions and more. It’s about refining, which means removing the unnecessary stuff that just takes up time and space, and clearing away all of the useless distractions that abound each day. Focus more on the things that matter and less on the things that don’t.

Fujifilm X-A3 – My New Second Camera

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Fujifilm X-A3 & Industar 61 – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F “Superia 800

Last week I purchased a gently used Fujifilm X-A3, which included the kit 16-50mm zoom lens. When the package arrived I found a camera that had been well kept and seemed basically brand new. With the announcement of the X-A5 (there is no X-A4) last week, I was able to get the X-A3 for only $400, which is an absolute bargain! My intentions are to sell the lens, and I think that will bring the total for the camera body to somewhere near $250. Honestly, I don’t know if a better value exists in the camera market today.

You might be wondering why I didn’t wait a week to get the new X-A5 (it’s available beginning today), which is improved and even has a different (and supposedly better) lens. The quick answer is cost, as the new camera has an MSRP of $600, and obviously $400 is less than $600. The longer answer is that the improved features of the X-A5, which include updates to auto-focus and video, are not important to me. I will be using manual-focus lenses on this camera and I won’t be using it for video, so most of the upgrades won’t effect me. It’s very nice to have the latest-and-greatest, but if I can save some money and get something that’s essentially the same but a year older, that’s typically a wiser decision.

You might also be wondering, why the X-A3? Why not the X-E3 or X-T20? Clearly the X-E3 and X-T20 are better cameras, as the X-A3 is the bottom-end entry-level X-series model, but they are also much more expensive. Like a lot of people, I can’t afford to drop a bunch of cash on new gear every year. I have to consider every purchase carefully and justify the amount that I’m spending.

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f/8 – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 103

The X-A3 is very popular in some parts of the world, but in the U.S. it’s not a camera that people get excited over and so sales are mediocre. In fact, you might not have heard of it before. One reason for this is that, while the X-A3 is indeed an X camera, it is not an X-Trans camera. Yes, the X-A3, which has a 24-megapixel APS-C Sony-made sensor, has a Bayer color filter array and not an X-Trans array. It’s not the only X-series camera that’s not X-Trans (the most well-known model is the medium-format GFX-50s), but the fact that it’s not X-Trans makes it less desirable among Fuji X photographers. I lot of people look right past it just because of the Bayer sensor.

The differences between X-Trans and Bayer are not huge. I thought that X-Trans would make more of a difference than it does. That’s not to say there aren’t advantages to X-Trans over Bayer, because there indeed are, but simply that the differences are fairly minor and nothing to get worked up over.

For starters, comparing ISO image quality between the X-A3 and X100F, ISO 1600 and below look identical between the two sensors. The X-Trans sensor at ISO 3200 has a barely noticeable advantage, at ISO 6400 the X-Trans sensor is obviously superior, and at ISO 12800 the X100F is usable but the X-A3 is definitely not. Dynamic range is very similar between the two cameras, but when pushing the shadows significantly, X-Trans is a little cleaner. What accounts for all this is the number of green light-sensitive sensor elements (50% on Bayer, 55% on X-Trans), which provides more luminosity data on X-Trans cameras. That’s the biggest advantage of X-Trans over Bayer.

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Bolsey – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Jupiter 8M

Another advantage of X-Trans is that it doesn’t require, nor does it have, an optical low-pass filter (a.k.a. anti-aliasing filter), which blurs the image slightly to prevent moire pattern distortion (a.k.a. aliasing). Higher resolution Bayer sensors, such as the 24-megapixel sensor found inside the X-A3, doesn’t really need one, either, as aliasing is less of an issue with that much resolution (although it can still creep its ugly head on occasion), so fewer Bayer cameras have it nowadays. The X-A3 does have an optical low-pass filter, which is kind of a disappointment, but in reality the sharpness difference between a camera with and without an anti-aliasing filter is only noticeable when comparing massive crops side-by-side. If you compared identical images captured with the X-A3 and X-E3 using the same lens, then made 200% crops and put them next to each other, you’d notice that one would be slightly more crisp than the other. In real-world use, where nobody is making massive crops and nobody is making side-by-side comparisons, there is no practical difference. It’s not as big of a deal as some would have you believe.

The biggest difference for me between the two cameras is the in-camera JPEG processing. Specifically, the X-A3 does not have the Acros Film Simulation, nor does it have faux film grain. What it does have are the same options found on X-Trans II cameras. In fact, while the camera has the same resolution as X-Trans III cameras, because of the menu and Bayer sensor, the X-A3 is more like having an X-Trans II camera. It definitely produces different results than my X100F, which I don’t mean as a bad thing (or good thing), as the results aren’t necessarily worse (or better), they’re just subtly different.

The X-A3 has a touch flip-screen, which is a cool feature. For street photography I like to flip the screen to a 90-degree angle and use the camera like a twin-lens reflex, shooting at the hip. People are less aware that you are photographing them when you are looking down and it’s not obvious that you are actively taking pictures. Unfortunately the X-A3 has a hideous PASM dial instead of a shutter speed dial. For the price, though, it’s easy to overlook this shortcoming.

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Steam Tender – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

The X-A3 is actually a well-equipped camera capable of capturing high-quality images. The camera is cheap because it’s made from cheaper materials, with a lot more plastic and a lot less metal than other Fujifilm X cameras. It feels like it might break if it took a lot of abuse. The one positive out of this is that it weighs less, so it is less cumbersome to carry.

Comparing the size of the X-A3 with the X100F, the body of the X-A3, which has a very similar style to the X100F, is noticeably smaller. It’s not as wide or tall as the X100F, and, if you were to add a 27mm pancake lens, you might have a poor-man’s X100F, but smaller. With an old Industar 61 lens attached using an adapter, the lens sticks out about as far as my X100F with a lens hood. The X-A3 is definitely a small camera, and a great companion to the X100F because it is an interchangeable-lens option that is similarly small and potentially pocket-sized.

The reason why I purchased another camera in the first place is because I couldn’t capture a certain photograph with the X100F. The X100F has proven to be versatile enough for almost any situation. When I saw a beautiful full moon rising over the mountain ridge with a cloud layer covering just the top of it, and I couldn’t capture the scene as I wanted because the X100F has a fixed wide-angle lens, I knew it was time to add a second Fuji X camera to the camera shelf. This wasn’t the first time that I encountered a situation where the X100F wasn’t the right tool for the job, but simply the last straw. These situations aren’t frequent, but it will be nice to have a second camera when needed.

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Weber Canyon Moonrise – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

I love my X100F and I will continue to use it as my primary camera. Almost always it’s the perfect picture-making tool for whatever situation. It’s small and lightweight and can fit into a large pocket. It has a leaf shutter and wonderful fill-flash built into it. The image quality is just fantastic! It’s a joy to use and my favorite camera that I’ve ever owned.

When it’s not the right tool, then I will have my X-A3 and a handful of lenses to handle those situations. So far, in the five days since it arrived in the mail, I’ve used the camera to capture some nice photographs in a variety of situations. The lenses I’ve used are an Industar 61, a Helios 44-2, Helios 103 and a Jupiter 8M, which are vintage Soviet Union lenses that produce wonderful images that are full of character. I’m waiting for a Jupiter 21M to come in the mail within the next week or two.

The reason why I have these old Russian lenses lying around is because I own several old 35mm film cameras that they attach to. I already have X-mount adapters because I used to pair these lenses with an X-E1 that I used to own. I loved using these lenses with my X-E1, and I’m ecstatic to be using them once again!

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6751 – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Industar 61

Sometimes I wish that I’d kept the X-E1 because I really liked that camera. I sold it (plus some lenses) to help pay for the X100F. Is the X-A3 an upgrade over the X-E1? I think in many ways it is a small upgrade, and in a few ways it’s not, but the X-A3 has a lot fewer clicks on the shutter and so I anticipate that it will hang around for at least a couple of years. My old X-E1 had captured a lot of images, and I wondered how much longer it would continue operating before breaking down. Even if the X-A3 isn’t all that much of an upgrade, the peace-of-mind that it will last for awhile is worth something.

I appreciate vintage glass attached to Fujifilm X cameras, and I’ve immensely enjoyed the X-A3 paired with old Russian lenses so far. I will continue to play around with it and sprinkle posts about my experiences using it on this blog. I hope that you don’t mind. And, don’t worry, I’ll continue to write the usual X100F stuff as I still have plenty to say.

All of the photographs in this article are straight-out-of-camera JPEGs. I didn’t edit anything, and I think this gives a good idea of what can be accomplished without using software. I appreciate all the time that Fujifilm cameras save me because I don’t need to fiddle with RAW files anymore. Below are more example photos from my X-A3 camera. Enjoy!

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Ready To Work – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Industar 61

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See, Over There – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Industar 61

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Station – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Brick Behind Bars – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Watch Your Step – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Industar 61

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Cat & Dog – Draper, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Evening Light On The Wasatch – Draper, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Wasatch Ridge Evening – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

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Necklace – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 103

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Lunchtime Kids – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-A3 & Helios 44-2

My Fujifilm X100F Fujicolor Superia 800 Film Simulation Recipe (PRO Neg. Std)

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Caramel Macchiato – Sandy, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Back in the days when I shot a lot of film, I would typically use ISOs of 25, 50, 64, 100 and 160. I would consider ISO 400 film as my go-to high-ISO choice (yes, I considered ISO 400 to be high-ISO!), but sometimes that wasn’t enough. For black-and-white photography there were several good options (mostly involving push-process), yet for color the choices for good film with ISOs above 400 were few and far between. When I needed something faster than ISO 400 for color work, the two options that I typically went with were Fujicolor Pro 800Z and Fujicolor Superia 800.

Fujicolor Pro 800Z was a good indoor portrait film. It had muted colors, low contrast, a very slight yellow cast, accurate skin tones, and fine grain (for ISO 800 film). It was quite popular among wedding and event photographers. For low-light pictures of people it was the best option. I used it a few times.

Fujicolor Superia 800 was a better film choice for things other than portraits. Of the two films, it had more color saturation, more contrast, a green cast, less accurate skin tones and more grain. It was the more bold, gritty, punchy choice of the two. Not that it was particularly wild (because it wasn’t), but Pro 800Z, while it could be beautiful, was especially bland (which is why it was good for pictures of people). I used Superia 800 a lot more frequently than Pro 800Z.

With this in mind, I set out to create a facsimile to Superia 800 with my Fujifilm X100F. I wanted in-camera to create the look of the high-speed film. I experimented with different film simulations and settings, and was able to achieve something similar to the film, using PRO Neg. Std as the starting point. It’s not a 100% match, but I feel like it’s convincing enough that I might be able to fool someone into thinking that I used actual film instead of digital capture.

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Sketching By A Window – Sandy, UT – Fujifilm X100F

One issue that I have with this film simulation recipe is the film grain. Even with a strong grain effect selected, it’s not quite as grainy as Superia 800 (specifically, the faux grain is too small). In fact, it might not even be as grainy as Pro 800Z! If there was an extra-strength grain effect option I would choose that instead, but alas there is not. I think it is grainy enough to give the right impression, even if inaccurate.

Another thing that’s not quite right about my film simulation recipe is that skin tones are too accurate when compared to the film. Superia 800 did not render human skin as nicely as these settings do. Even though it’s not true to the film in this regard, it might be viewed as a positive and not a negative.

Otherwise, my Fujicolor Superia 800 Film Simulation recipe produces a convincing analog film look, delivering pleasing results in a variety of situations. I’ve been using it extensively since I created it a week ago. I’m very happy with how it renders photographs, so I anticipate it being one of my go-to film simulation options. I think it’s one of the best ones that I’ve discovered so far. I invite you to give it a try yourself!

PRO Neg. Std
Dynamic Range: DR200
Highlight: +1
Shadows: +2
Color: +4
Noise Reduction: -3
Sharpening: +1
Grain Effect: Strong
White Balance: Auto, -2 Red & -3 Blue
ISO: Auto up to ISO 6400
Exposure Compensation: +2/3 (typically)

Example photos, all straight-out-of-camera JPEGs captured using my Fujicolor Superia 800 Film Simulation recipe:

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Dormant Red – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Abandoned Bridge Over Weber River – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Weber Canyon Moonrise – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Watch Out For The T-Rex – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Lost Trail – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Baby Swing – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Neighborhood Stroll With Johanna – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Hanging Print – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Parked Alone – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Pigeon Window – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Disabled Illumination – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Illuminated Beauty – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Coffee Table – Sandy, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Coffee Shop Latte – Sandy, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Caramel Coffee – Sandy, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Raspberry Cookies – Sandy, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Cake Slice For Two – Sandy, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Delicious Cake – Sandy, UT – Fujifilm X100F

See also:
My Fujifilm X100F PRO Neg. Hi Film Simulation Recipe
My Fujifilm X100F Vintage Kodachrome Film Simulation Recipe
My Fujifilm X100F Classic Chrome Film Simulation Recipe
My Fujifilm X100F Astia Film Simulation Recipe
My Fujifilm X100F Velvia Film Simulation Recipe